Miniseries Review: Historical Inaccuracies in AMC+’s Anne Boleyn (2021)

Being the Tudor history buff I am, I can’t help but get frustrated when historical inaccuracies are so blatantly present in films and/or television series (and there is no real reason for it). Sometimes directors use creative choices instead of sticking with history and sometimes they work or are not as blatantly in your face, and sometimes they aren’t. Critics have labelled AMC +’s casting of a black Anne Boleyn as “black-washing” history and while I agree with this to a point, this historical inaccuracy did not bother me as much since it was an obvious “creative” choice. It was instead the little moments and choices they made with the telling of the story that really irked me. So, setting the black casting of an obviously white historical figure aside, let’s look at a few.

Costumes

Found at Amazon.com & Pinterest

Perhaps the most obvious of the historical no-no’s:

  • Where is the jewelry? As you can tell from the portraits above, the Tudors (especially royalty) loved their jewels and ornaments.
  • French Hoods? Many of the women had French hoods that looked like they were “cut and pasted” from their dresses, which also was not a commonality of 1500’s fashion. As you can see in the portraits, the hoods are usually different colors to offset their gowns. A note about the French hoods…where are the hoods? The ones the women wore in the series were more like headbands.
  • Why don’t the dresses fit? Each dress, especially on Anne Boleyn, was ill-fitting and very brightly colored (more like a color-choice one would make when sewing a Halloween costume). Commonly, colors like red, green, and blue in this era had deeper hues, especially for members of the royal family.

Sex while pregnant with the heir to the throne?

This was also a no-no for English Royals, especially for ones like Henry VIII, who wanted more than anything for his queen to give birth a healthy son to succeed him. So, the scene where Henry and Anne are “doin’ it” would most likely have not happened while Anne was pregnant with the heir to the throne. Whenever his wife was pregnant, the king was expected, even by the queen, to take mistresses. This is also something that they failed to address in the series: why Anne wanted her kin to be his mistress…someone she could control and trust. They just sort of have her imply that her cousin Madge is his mistress but don’t explain why.

Why is Jane Seymour so young?

From BT.com

Jane was in her late 20’s when she married King Henry VIII, not some naïve teenager. That sounds more like Henry’s 5th wife—whom we affectionately call his “mid-life crisis” wife—Katherine Howard. If they casted this actress as Katherine in another series, it would be spot-on!

  • Side-note: Why did they show Anne kiss Jane on the lips? I know that in this era, women sometimes greeted each other with a peck on the lips, but she conversed with Jane about marriage beforehand, which sets a strange precedence for her to then attack her face with her lips…it was cringeworthy to say the least.

Thomas Cromwell = Sadistic Villain?

From TheTab.com

This was one that bugged me, mainly because the film set no precedent for why Cromwell was so openly antagonistic towards Anne. It shows them as allies, discussing reform in the church, and then shows him openly taunting her with a cringy sadistic smile about her “alleged” charges…Can they make his villainy any more obvious?

Instead, I see that history paints Thomas Cromwell as a more strategic figure who worked behind the scenes to orchestrate Anne’s downfall, and he is, in my opinion, a more complex character than the obvious mustache-twisting villain popular media like this portrays him as. Based off my own research, I believe Cromwell wished to please the king either to improve his own standing or to save his own neck (or both). Henry wanted to get rid of his queen, so his low-born secretary dirtied his own hands by fabricating evidence—Why would he openly taunt the queen with something this incriminatory? He might as well have been shouting: “Hey everyone, I’m the one behind the queen’s downfall!”.

Why is Anne imprisoned in a dungeon?

It’s interesting that so many adaptations show Anne Boleyn in a dungeon when she goes to the Tower of London, but it is far from the truth. She herself asked her jailor: “Mr. Kingston, shall I go into a dungeon?” after which he replies, “No, Madam. You shall go into the lodging you lay in at your coronation.” Instead, in this film it shows her behind bars like a common criminal.

Why is the constable of the Tower portrayed as a young, gypsy-looking ruffian?

(First of all, why was he eating dinner with a fork? Those weren’t invented until the 17th century. People, even nobles, in 1500’s England would have eaten with a dagger and their hands.)

The constable of the Tower, Master William Kingston, at this time was not a young jailor, but a distinguished veteran and former soldier of the Crown who was in his 60’s. Due to his years of experience in professional employ of the Tower, I think he may have exhibited a level of professionalism, especially towards the more important prisoners, instead of exhibiting the condescending demeanor toward the former queen that was portrayed in this show. Comparatively, I think his portrayal performed by Michael Vivian Fyfe Pennington was very spot-on in Showtime’s The Tudors.

Why do only two ladies (including one Anne trusts) wait on her in the Tower?

To further ostracize the queen from her title and position, the king (or Cromwell) made sure that there were unbiased ladies attending her…most likely ones that she did not know or who were trustworthy by Cromwell enough to report back to him or Master Kingston about her. History does not confirm who these ladies were, but many speculate that one of her ladies was Elizabeth Boleyn, who looked after other maids of honor and perhaps Anne Shelton, who was believed to not like Anne Boleyn very much. Also, it’s been reported that Anne wished to be accompanied by her own ladies instead of the ones she was provided with in the Tower.

Where was the delay of execution?

From TheTudorTravelGuide.com

It is famously known that Anne’s resolve to succumb to her fate was tested more than once when the French executioner was delayed not once, but twice, while on the road from Calais to London. No doubt this caused her much distress after preparing herself to die at the time that originally was appointed to her, and I think it could have added some higher stakes to the portrayal of Anne Boleyn in this drama.

Anne’s Execution

There were some things that I think they got right in the portrayal of the execution scene, but there were also many flaws that drove me nuts. This should have been the most pivotal scene in the series, because it is the instance where we see this queen meet her infamous fate, but the creators ignored some very important details that could have added to the dynamicity and strength of an English queen that has both puzzled and fascinated historians for centuries.

  • Right: Wardrobe
    • She did have a fur caul she wore.
    • She was blindfolded.
    • She did have to take off her jewelry.
  • Right: Executioner asking for forgiveness
    • I think we should have seen him a bit more for this to have taken a stronger effect.
  • Wrong: Why is the weather so dark?
    • This happened in May, so I don’t believe that it was as dark and cold as portrayed…but then again, this is England, so rain and thunder could have been present.
From TheSun.com
  • Wrong: Where is Anne’s iconic speech?
    • This is the main detail that separates Anne Boleyn from other executions in history. Her composed and compelling speech that spoke of her innocence (without directly speaking about her innocence) is something that helps us understand who she was at the end and how her courage to meet that end was portrayed.

“Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it.  I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord.  And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best.  And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me.  O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.”

Retrieved from OnTheTudorTrail.com

All-in-all, I think this was a sad attempt at a historical adaptation (if that’s what the creators were aiming for). If AMC+ was simply wanting to make a creative interpretation of Anne Boleyn’s downfall, then they succeeded, but at the cost of historical accuracy. For those of you who want more historically accurate information about this intriguing figure, try watching a documentary instead.

Published by Ashley Weaver

I am a writer, reader, student, and teacher of literature and the English language.

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